Chris Jenkins' handsome combination of explosiveness and cool efficiency allows him to--as the kids like to say--take whatever it is the defense gives him.
There seems to be another, harder to define, quality built within the junior guard that also allows him to take enough of what he needs even when the defense isn't giving him a darn thing.
Despite extra-heavy attention, Jenkins took a pass from Matt Rosenberg and buried a long 3-pointer from the top of the key with 19 seconds remaining to send undefeated Morristown-Beard to a 51-50 victory over host St. Mary in the championship of the Al LoBalbo Holiday Tournament at Robert Halleck Gymnasium in Elizabeth.
Jenkins began the game red hot in the first quarter (11 of his game-high 29 points) to guide Morristown Beard (5-0) to an 18-10 lead that would swell to 17 points late in the second period. He would taper off later in the game, though, as St. Mary intensified its fullcourt pressure and was often able to deny him touches on multiple possessions.
But St. Mary could not charge out to Jenkins quick enough off that feed by Rosenberg and he delivered to give the Crimson their second straight LoBalbo Tournament title. Jenkins netted 24 last year in the championship win over Union Catholic.
"I'm just trying to be patient, but aggressive, as well, when I have to be," Jenkins said. "
My team expects me to make plays like that. I have to play up to the expectations."
Those expectations increased markedly when senior Harrison Rosemond fouled out for Morristown-Beard with 37 seconds to go. Rashaun Liggon hit his two free throws to give St. Mary a 50-48 edge and Morristown-Beard worked down the floor against the man pressure that forced 14 turnovers in the second half.
"I had to be even more of a leader with him out" Jenkins, who also finished with 12 rebounds, said. "He's a leader, he's a senior. Basically I have to just elevate my game when he comes out."
Jenkins' 3-pointer was his only shot of the fourth quarter and fourth of the closing half. St. Mary couldn't afford to give Jenkins a chance to create, so the Hilltoppers badgered everyone else before their opponent could figure out how to get the ball to the Crimsons' top scorer.
"He's a tough matchup for us," St. Mary head coach John Moffitt said. " Put a big kid on him and he's going to go by him. Put a smaller kid him and he's going to take him inside and beat him up. He' s a good player."
Senior guard Stephen Alexander led St. Mary's furious rally effort with 11 of his 13 points and all four of his steals in the second half. Liggon sank five of his 12 points and took down three of his five rebounds after the break.
"We played tough defense, pressed them, and they started throwing the ball away a little bit. We came back, came back…should have won it.
"First half we had a lot of turnovers," he said. "Sloppy play, lack of hustle. They outhustled us pretty good. They rebounded the ball well and they scored on fast breaks. Second half we just played a more physical, tougher game."
St. Mary (2-3) trailed the entire game until Liggon scored underneath off a feed by O'Shea Bostic to put the Hilltoppers in front, 47-46, with 1:19 to go.
Tyler Terens gave Morristown-Beard a 48-47 edge on two free throws with 1:13 remaining, but Isaiah Jenkins hit one of two from the line 16 seconds later to knot the game at 48-48.
Mike Kinney covers boys basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS